Camp Countdown: 5 Defensive playmakers to look for at camp

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Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 30 and the Sept. 13 opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Indianapolis.

Preston Brown

Brown excelled in his rookie season, leading the Bills with 108 tackles in 2014. This season, he will be transitioning from the 4-3—where he played MLB—to the 3-4—where he will play ILB.

The new position brings new challenges. Brown says that he will have to read the running back before attacking the gap on the offensive line, something he did not have to do as an MLB. He also acknowledged the new physical demands that come with playing ILB. 

"You've got to be physical now," he said. "You've got to put that on film where you've got some heads snapping back. You can't show that you're just taking on blocks. You've got to show a physical presence so your opponents know they're in for a fight."

Manny Lawson

Like Brown, Lawson is transitioning into a new role as a strong slide linebacker in defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman's 3-4 defense. This position, however, is nothing new for Lawson. He played a similar position for the Bills in 2013 when he was the team's third leading tackler. He also played similar positions for the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49er

"This is my home," Lawson said of his strong side linebacker spot. "This is what I like to do. I get to create chaos in the backfield and disrupt passes and disrupt routes and that's what I do best."

Lawson should thrive as the SAM linebacker. Although he played well as a defensive end last season, he will be able to utilize his skill set to its full potential in the 3-4.

Jerry Hughes

Hughes is coming off of two straight double-digit sack seasons with no signs of slowing down. During a practice this spring, head coach Rex Ryan had to pull him off of the field … because he was playing too well.

"It's rare that you have to pull a guy from practice because he's ruining your practice," Ryan said. "It's one of those deals, it's like, 'OK, let's pull him out. Let's get a pass off or something like that.'"

Hughes should fit perfectly into the new defensive scheme, something Ryan is psyched about.

"You can put him anywhere," he said. "Your great pass rushers have a feel for it, when to go inside, when to set up guys and all that—and he has it."

Leodis McKelvin

McKelvin is expected to be at 100 percent despite missing the last five games of the 2014 regular season due to a broken ankle. Before the injury, he was having a stellar season with a career-high four interceptions. In 2013, McKelvin had 60 tackles and 20 passes defended—both career bests.

"I feel like I can come back and put those back-to-back seasons [together] from when I was working with Mike Pettine in a defense similar to this one," he said. "I put those two seasons together and the sky is the limit."

The former first-round selection is one of the most seasoned veterans in the Bills secondary. If he can maintain his speed, he should make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks come September.

Aaron Williams

Williams, like McKelvin, is coming off of an injury at the tail end of the 2014 season. His offseason hip surgery kept him out of practices this spring. The biggest question surrounding Williams is whether or not he will be ready to lead the secondary when September rolls around. He will need to get his reps in during training camp to be in top form.

Despite the injury and lack of significant practice time, Ryan is optimistic about Williams going into training camp.

"Aaron should be ready to go," Ryan said. "He seems to be sharp and I'm looking forward to seeing him on the field."

With camp less than three weeks away, it remains to be seen how much Williams will participate before the regular season begins.

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